The Italian lakes with Marcus Ljungqvist
THE ROUTE A training session in a week designed to keep top form between the Vuelta and the World Champs
DISTANCE 59 miles (95 km)
MAIN CLIMB Monte Maniva
This is an important week,” Marcus Ljungqvist says over a light pre-ride lunch on the patio of his Lake Garda flat. “I came out of the Vuelta on Sunday with good form and the Worlds are on Sunday.”
Ljungqvist was fourth in the 2005 World Championship road race, the best ever placing by a Swedish rider, and he knows that as this year’s race approaches, he has the form to do well again.
“I could feel it building all through the Vuelta. I went in 100 per cent committed to helping Carlos [Sastre, his CSC team-mate], but the Worlds were in the back of my mind all the time.”
It’s Wednesday in a nervous week. A three-week stage race like the Vuelta is no joke and having form after it is a delicate commodity. Ljungqvist’s form is balanced on a knife edge. How will he make sure it doesn’t disappear?
“It’s difficult. One week doesn’t sound long and you certainly can’t improve, but you can lose it. You must recover, but if you do nothing for a week that is no good. I have to ride every day. Also, I need one long hard ride to keep my form, and I have to time that right.
“The first day after a three-week race isn’t too bad, but on the second you are dead. Your body realises you have stopped and wants to shut down, so you must ride. It’s hard but you must do two hours.
“Today I will do three, going a little harder, but the big day will be tomorrow. Then I will do four to six hours with some intervals and some motor pacing. Then we leave for Stuttgart. We are taking everything with us because we will carry on from Germany back to Sweden for the winter.”
Home for Ljungqvist, his wife Carine and young son Lucas is Falun in Sweden, the place where he was born and grew up wanting to be a pro ice-hockey player. “That was the dream, to make it to the NHL in America. The Swedish players who do that are big stars. Problem was I wasn’t the best hockey player in the world,” says Ljungqvist.
As he prepares his bike Ljungqvist tells me he will spend the winter doing some cycling, but also a lot of other sports. “I’ll speed skate with maybe a bit of hockey, and I’ll ski and run. It is good to take a break from cycling. I don’t eat, sleep and drink cycling but I’m in my 10th year, so I must be doing OK.”
Outside it’s a typical Italian sunny day as Ljungqvist threads his way between the vineyards that surround his village.
“They aren’t as famous as the ones on the east side of Lake Garda. Valpolicella is over there. But the wine here is good. I have a friend here, Bottarelli, who makes good wine.”
This part of Italy is stunningly beautiful. The mountains rise directly out of the lakes, seeming to endow the scenery with an extra dimension. The problem though is that all the traffic gets funnelled onto just a few roads and training routes need a lot
“You have to be patient with the traffic, but I know ways of getting through the worst and pretty soon I can be on the mountain roads behind Salo,” Ljungqvist explains as he navigates around the back streets of the lakeside town where the 1962 World Championship road race was held.
Soon we are climbing steadily up the Val Trompia towards the two big climbs on the route. The Paso di Maniva, which is part of the foothills of some really serious climbs to the north, in Trentino. Legendary names like the Stelvio and Gavia await you up there.
Ljungqvist stops at the top of the Maniva to admire the view, and his thoughts quickly skip again to Sunday. He considers that Oscar Freire, Paulo Bettini and Sammy Sanchez will be the ones to watch, and he means that literally.
Team of three
“There will be only three Swedish riders in Stuttgart — me, Thomas Lovkvist and Gustav Larsson — so there is nothing we can do to shape the race. We have to base our race on what the big teams do and pick favourites to follow, but also be ready to take advantage of any internal team struggles.
“I like the Worlds though, it’s a race that suits me. I like riding lap after lap on the same circuit. I find it easy to focus in a race like that. Also, although I’m not as good a sprinter now as when I turned pro, my sprint doesn’t go down so much in a long race. You need that in the Worlds.”
From the top of the Maniva the route drops to Lake Idro before continuing to Salo. In a hill-top village just after the busy town, Ljungqvist stops so we can look across Lake Garda.
Fifty years ago, the Belgian Classics star Rik Van Looy started the trend here for northern cyclists to take advantage of southern roads to escape their winters and build their fitness for the coming racing season. By coincidence Marcus Ljungqvist sees his future in a venture based on Van Looy’s idea.
“Because it’s so nice to ride here, I have put together a small cycling holiday business with my neighbour in Italy, Kurt-Asle Arvesen. It’s called Quattrobiciclette.com. People can come and bring their own bikes or we have some for hire. They can ride by themselves or we can give them rides and information about the area, or even ride with them. It’s free and easy, and up to them how much input they want from us. We have already had quite a few from Norway.”
But before he concentrates on that part of his life, Ljungqvist has a lot more races left to ride. “I’d like to go on for a few years. Riding a bike for a living is a great job really and one I want to continue doing for as long as possible,” he says.
YOUR GUIDE: MARCUS LJUNGQVIST
Age 33, married to Carine, with one son, Lucas. Lives in Polpenazze del Garda during the summer, and Falun in Sweden during the winter.
Swedish and Scandinavian open road race champion 2004 and 2005. Winner of the 2002 Tour of Luxembourg.
Rides for Team CSC, which he says “is the perfect team for a Scandinavian.”
Says the way forward in the fight against doping in cycling is to, “Educate people early that winning isn’t everything. Do your best, but you won’t die if you don’t win.”
The nearest airport is Verona-Villafranca. Take the S62 north and join the E70 motorway. Head west on the motorway until the Salo junction and take the S572 north to Salo. Bergamo airport is also close by, and is almost next to the E64 motorway. Take the E64 east, which becomes the E70 just after Brescia. Continue east and leave the motorway at the Salo junction, then go north on the S572.
From Milan, which has airports and good rail links with the rest of Europe, head east on the E64 and follow the directions above.
Start in Salo and follow signs to Volciano and then Vobarno to the east and north of the town. Turn left to Odolo and right to Sarezzo. Turn right in Sarezzo up the Val Trompia and climb Monte Maniva, then head east and descend through Bagolino to the Lago d’Idro. Turn right and head back through Vestone to Vobarno, then Volciano to Salo.